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Waterford Crystal Experiencing Sales Growth

Chairman says Irish company is enjoying strongest September sales since 2003; it's unsure whether company will report a net profit for the first time since 2002.

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) โ€” Waterford Wedgwood PLC, Ireland's struggling maker of crystal and china tableware, said Thursday it expects to report lower first-half sales but is strongly rebounding in the run-up to Christmas.
 
Chairman and major shareholder Sir Anthony O'Reilly told Waterford Wedgwood shareholders at their annual meeting that the company was enjoying its strongest September sales since 2003 and its order book was 11 percent higher than at the same time last year.
 
O'Reilly cited a 2005 cost-cutting program and shifting china production to Indonesia as key to the turnaround. But he shed no light on whether the company was on course to report a net profit for the first time since 2002.
 
''The sales trends are strongly positive. ... Crucially, prospects for the all-important Christmas period are encouraging,'' he said.
 
O'Reilly cautioned that the company expects to report 9 percent lower sales for the April-September period. Those first-half results are scheduled for publication Nov. 8.
 
He attributed the drop to a slower-than-planned rollout of extra expenditure on global production and marketing, which didn't happen until July, and sales jumped starting then.
 
O'Reilly and the company's deputy chairman, Peter Goulandris, already own more than half of all Waterford Wedgwood shares. Their holding has grown steadily since 2004, when the company began issuing more than euro400 million (US$560 million) in new shares to drum up sufficient capital to cover mounting debts.
 
O'Reilly said the company hoped to issue another euro100 million (US$140 million) worth of shares soon, most of which he expected to sell to other institutions, while he and Goulandris would buy euro17 million (US$24 million) worth.
 
Waterford Wedgwood has largely completed its May 2005 plan to slash costs by euro90 million (US$130 million) a year, laying off 2,200 employees and shutting a crystal plant in Ireland and a china plant in England. It also shifted china production to a new factory near Jakarta, Indonesia, and took control of an English-based claywares rival Royal Doulton.
 
O'Reilly said the Jakarta factory had proved crucial because its operations in Indonesia are priced in U.S. dollars, not the euro. Waterford Wedgwood depends heavily on sales in the United States, where its euro profits have been hammered by the weakening dollar.
 
Waterford was founded in 1759 in the southeast Irish city of the same name. It merged with English fine-china specialist Wedgwood in 1986. The combined operation's shares have plummeted a staggering 95 percent since 2002, the last year it reported a net profit.
 
In June, Waterford Wedgwood said its debts had grown 10.9 percent to euro412.2 million euros (US$584.5 million), more than double its stock market value.
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